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DIAA football realignment deserves a two-year trial run

Brad Myers
Delaware News Journal

When it comes to the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association board of directors possibly approving football realignment at its next meeting, I’m going to borrow a phrase from Nike.

Just do it.

Try it for the next two-year scheduling cycle and see how it goes.

Laurel's Kylse Wilson (5) finds running room during last Friday's 28-0 win at Seaford. Under a new DIAA football realignment proposal, both Laurel and Seaford would be placed in Class A, District 2 with six other schools.

It is significant that the realignment proposal was crafted by the Delaware Association of Athletic Directors football subcommittee. The group includes the presidents of the Blue Hen, Henlopen, Diamond State and Delaware Independent Schools conferences; the president of the Delaware Interscholastic Football Coaches Association; and the president and current and former executive directors of the football subcommittee.

In other words, this didn’t come from a couple of guys jawing online about how they could make things better. It came from a dedicated group of informed, smart people concerned about the future of Delaware high school football.

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Some might call the proposal radical, because it eliminates the traditional conferences we have all grown to know and love (in football only).

But I don’t call it radical. I call it reasonable. And long overdue.

The proposal would split the state’s 44 high school football teams into three divisions, instead of the current two. The 12 largest, most successful schools would be grouped together in Class AAA. The 16 schools rated in the middle would be in Class AA. The 16 lower-rated schools would be in Class A.

Newark's Corey Howard (9) is brought down by Howard's Michael Brock (right) and Al'Zion Triplett during Howard's 48-12 win on Oct. 24. Under a new DIAA football realignment proposal, Howard would be placed in Class AA and Newark would go into Class A, the lowest of three divisions.

There would be two districts within each class, with District 1 comprised mostly of teams in the northern part of the state and District 2 comprised mostly of southern schools.

To classify the teams, the football subcommittee used a formula based on school enrollment (50 percent), a team’s regular-season record over the previous three seasons (30 percent) and a team’s regular-season record over the previous five years (20 percent).

The subcommittee emphasized that the proposal submitted at the DIAA board meeting on Nov. 5 did not include the most recent enrollment numbers from 2019, so some teams could be reclassified as updated information is calculated.

But under the current proposal, Delaware’s high school football teams would be realigned as follows:

• Class AAA, District 1: Appoquinimink, Middletown, Salesianum, Hodgson, William Penn, St. Georges.

• Class AAA, District 2: Caesar Rodney, Dover, Milford, Smyrna, Sussex Central, Sussex Tech.

• Class AA, District 1: A.I. du Pont, Archmere, Brandywine, Concord, Wilmington Friends, Howard, Mount Pleasant, Tower Hill.

• Class AA, District 2: Cape Henlopen, Caravel, Delaware Military Academy, Delmar, Lake Forest, Polytech, St. Mark’s, Woodbridge.

• Class A, District 1: Charter of Wilmington, Christiana, Conrad, Delcastle, Dickinson, McKean, St. Elizabeth, Tatnall.

• Class A, District 2: First State Military Academy, Glasgow, Indian River, Laurel, Newark, Red Lion Christian, St. Andrew’s, Seaford.

The new Odessa High School, which will begin varsity play with freshmen and sophomores next season, would be placed into a class and district by the DIAA board or DIAA football committee.

Tower Hill's Brendan Hickey breaks free during a 33-15 win over Charter of Wilmington on Oct. 31. Under a new DIAA football realignment proposal, Tower Hill would be placed in Class AA and Charter would go into Class A, the lowest of three divisions.

I really can’t find fault with anything in this alignment. It wouldn’t be a perfect fit for every team, but let’s address some potential drawbacks.

Rivalries

The plan is full of flexibility. The new Class AAA teams only have five required games, leaving them five dates to fill however they choose. The Class AA and Class A teams would have seven required games, leaving them three dates to fill.

So there would be plenty of room to continue longtime rivalries. If both sides were agreeable, Milford could continue to play Lake Forest. Delmar could continue to play Laurel and Seaford. DMA could still play Conrad. Howard could still play Hodgson and/or St. Georges.

Travel

Some teams from New Castle County would be placed into districts with several teams from Kent and Sussex counties. Because there just aren’t enough downstate teams to fill out full districts in Class AA and Class A.

But if there is one state where it’s possible to do that without sending travel expenses through the roof, it’s Delaware. Nobody is going to have to drive from Dallas to El Paso.

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Caravel, St. Mark’s, DMA, Glasgow, Newark and Red Lion Christian will face a couple of longer bus trips each season. But since Caravel and St. Mark’s aren’t in a conference, their athletic directors should welcome starting each football scheduling season with seven guaranteed games.

A lot of these teams play each other anyway. Recent Glasgow-Indian River and St. Andrew’s-Seaford series come to mind. And don’t forget, those downstate teams will have to take that bus ride to visit your school every two years, too.

Tougher schedules

One of the first things I noticed was the district schedules for Wilmington Friends and Tower Hill would be noticeably tougher than they face now. But the Quakers and Hillers have beaten some of their proposed new opponents recently in the Division II playoffs.

Wilmington Friends' Peter Erskine (2) makes a reception during a 24-13 loss at Woodbridge in the 2019 DIAA Division II playoffs. Under a new DIAA football realignment proposal, both schools would be placed in Class AA, the middle of the three divisions.

And both schools would still have the flexibility to play Tatnall and St. Andrew’s every year, if desired by all parties.

Now, let’s get to the best thing about this proposal. The reason it is necessary.

Better competition

Blue Hen Conference president Andy Dick reviewed all of the Delaware high school football games played during the 2019 season and found that 212 of 437 total games (48.5 percent) were decided by 25 points or more.

That is way too many blowouts. I have covered many of these games over the years, and the only people who find them fun are the fans of the winning team.

In a lot of cases, the players on the winning team would prefer to play a more competitive game. And nobody on the losing side is having any fun.

So it makes perfect sense to take the 16 teams that have been performing worst over the last few years and put them together in Class A.

We’ve all heard the arguments against it. You’re watering it down. You’re rewarding mediocrity. You’re handing everybody a participation trophy.

If we’re concerned about watering it down, why are there two divisions now? If it’s all about the biggest and strongest and survival of the fittest, why do we waste time crowning a Division II champion now?

This wouldn’t be rewarding mediocrity, because – with all due respect – these 16 teams have proven to be less than mediocre over the last few seasons. But all of the athletes who play football at all of those schools love the game, and they would love it even more if they had a better chance to win more often.

We would not be handing everybody a participation trophy. Two teams would still finish last in each district of Class A.

But two teams would finish first, too. That would be a big deal at their schools. If you haven’t had any football success in a while, it’s pretty sweet when you go 8-2, 9-1 or even 10-0 – no matter who you played.

There will still be playoffs, and the Class A champion will be just as proud and happy as the Class AA and Class AAA champions. They will carry that DIAA trophy around the field and celebrate like crazy, just like the current Division II champ is as thrilled as the Division I champ.

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There should be fewer injuries among the Class A teams, because they would be playing more opponents close to their size and skill level. If you lose a basketball game 80-20, your pride gets wounded. If you lose a football game 60-0, your body gets wounded.

Finally, and best of all, don’t be surprised if some of the Class A teams get better at football and participation increases.

About 10 years ago, when Woodbridge was winning three games or less every year, the Blue Raiders typically had around 30 players.

Now, after winning Division II titles in 2016 and 2018, Woodbridge starts each season with at least 80 players.

Woodbridge players celebrate after winning the 2018 DIAA Division II football championship with a 33-9 victory over Wilmington Friends at Delaware Stadium.

That kind of turnaround could happen at the schools that have success in Class A, and they could eventually move up into Class AA or even Class AAA.

The realignment proposal received great reviews from many DIAA board members last week. But opponents will certainly make their voices heard before Dec. 10, when the next meeting is held and a vote is likely.

Other realignment proposals have been considered before, but were always torpedoed by traditionalists and schools who didn’t think it was best for them.

But a 48.5 percent blowout rate doesn’t lie. There are too many mismatches now, and this proposal stands a good chance of creating more competitive games and allowing more kids to have more fun playing football.

It deserves a two-year trial run. If enough schools don’t like it then, it will be easy to go back to the old way.

Contact Brad Myers at bmyers@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ